In most cases, exercise can help relieve anxiety and panic. However, some people experience exercise-induced anxiety and panic attacks. In panic disorder, your body overreacts and believes there is a danger present when there is not. If you are noticing an increase in anxiety, consult a therapist or psychiatrist for treatment.
Panic disorder is characterized by repeated panic attacks and fear of a future panic attack. During a panic attack, you may feel you are dying. Other symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, feelings of choking, shortness of breath, detachment, nausea, heart palpitations, numbness, trembling, chills or sweating. People with panic disorder often worry about a future panic attack and alter their behavior or functions. You can experience a panic attack at any time, and it often begins suddenly without warning.
Panic Disorder and Exercise
If you already have a panic disorder, exercise can trigger another attack. After the first panic attack, you begin to notice bodily sensations more acutely. In normal adults, a heart palpitation does not cause worry. However, in a person with panic disorder, the heart palpitation creates extreme anxiety and worry about a heart attack. While exercising, your heart rate increases and you can have difficulty breathing. For someone with a panic disorder, this can trigger a panic attack or anxiety.
Anxiety and Exercise
Exercise also can increase anxiety in people who do not already have a panic disorder, although this is not well understood or researched. Doctors and experts often recommend exercise as a natural treatment for anxiety. However, a 2010 study published in the journal "Hippocampus" found that exercise can increase anxiety in mice. Researchers studied mice for three weeks in a cage with an exercise wheel to assess anxiety behaviors in mice that voluntarily exercised. The mice that exercised displayed behaviors that were more anxious and had higher levels of stress hormones.
Despite the conflicting studies, most research suggests that exercise is beneficial to reduce anxiety. A 2008 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology reviewed 49 randomized, controlled trials. The results found that participants in exercise groups had significant reductions in anxiety. Although you might initially feel an increase in anxiety while exercising, continuing to exercise will help you reduce your anxious feelings. Other treatments that can help with exercise-induced anxiety include medication and therapy.
Is This an Emergency?
- Out of the Blue Blog: Panic Attack Triggers -- Exercise
- PubMed Health: Panic Disorder
- Hippocampus: Voluntary Exercise Induces Anxiety-Like Behavior in Adult C57BL/6J Mice Correlating with Hippocampal Neurogenesis
- Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology: The Anxiolytic Effects of Exercise: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials and Dose–Response Analysis